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Civics: Study of Rights and Duties of Citizenship

The international underfunding of democracy's foundations

October 17, 2022 0 comments

One of the reasons our country built one of the world’s earliest public education programs was to prepare a citizenry capable of democratic self-government.

But according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, civic awareness is frighteningly low, with just a slim majority of Americans (56%) able to name the three branches of government and one-fifth (20%) unable to identify any.

Civic ignorance and distrust foster political polarization, which is at its peak in our current era.

These deeply troubling trends correlate with the generational marginalization of civic education in K–12 schools.

Since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, 44% of school districts have reduced time spent on social studies, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers.

This is most noticeable in the elementary grades, where social studies receive barely 10% of class time, compared to 53% for English and 25% for math.

This neglect of social studies and civics is directly related to decades of state and federal education policies mandating basic literacy (English Language Arts and math) testing through funding incentives.

The sidelining of social studies coincides with stagnant student proficiency (a stunningly low range of 20–25 percent) across multiple iterations of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in civics.

NAEP data also show inequitable access to evidence-based civic learning practices such as direct instruction, current event discussions, and democratic process simulations.

Civic education begins with developing the knowledge necessary to comprehend our systems, and it should also teach the skills and dispositions required to participate in the public square, as well as the incentive to do so.

Civic education paves the way for our descendants to engage in civic life for the rest of their lives.

Civic education has been chronically underfunded, federally and locally, as a direct result of education policy.

The federal government currently invests only 5 cents per K-12 student for civics and social studies, compared to $54 per student for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

And state funding for civics and social studies isn’t any better with Republicans having complete control of the government in 23 states and utilizing redistricting to secure their advantage in many areas for the next decade.

Remember that the next time someone complains about public schools failing to teach the “basics,” implies that young people lack intelligence, or believe citizens should pass literacy tests to exercise their right to vote.

And remember to exercise your right to vote, as that citizenship right has been taken away from many.

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